Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Jim Crow n.

also John Crow
[early 19C Kentucky plantation song with the chorus ‘Jump Jim Crow’ and the ‘black face’ entertainer Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808–60), who first performed it in Louisville in 1828; its popularity in the UK followed Rice’s appearance at the Adelphi theatre in 1836, in a ‘farcical Burletta’ entitled ‘A Flight to America, or, Twelve Hours in New York’; for details see Hindley (1878) pp. 267ff.; note also Schele De Vere (1872): ‘We have no ballad and no song that can be called American. The nearest approach [...] was the dramatic song Jim Crow, brought out about the year 1835 by an enthusiastic Yankee on the boards of a theatre in New York; it created a sensation, for it was new in form and conception, and no doubt rendered still more attractive by the strange guise in which it was presented. It was quickly followed by several other songs of the same kind, such as Zip Coon, Longtailed Blue, Ole Virginny nebber tire, Settin’ on a Rail, etc [...] For a time this African inroad drove nearly every other song from the publisher’s store and the drawing-room’]

1. a patronizing if not actively derog. generic term for a black person; also attrib.

[UK]M. Scott Tom Cringle’s Log (1862) 77: ‘You John Crow, what is wrong with you?’ ‘Why, de Purser killed, captain, dat all.’.
[UK]Salisbury & Winchester Jrnl 19 Nov. 3: The fellow was [...] carried in triumph about the neighbourhood, with his face blackened, so as to appear a regular ‘Jim Crow’.
[[UK]C. Mackay Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1869) 247: Several other songs sprang up in due succession [...] but none of them, with the exception of one, entitled ‘All round my hat,’ enjoyed any extraordinary share of favour, until an American actor introduced a vile song called ‘Jim Crow.’ The singer sang his verses in appropriate costume, with grotesque gesticulations, and a sudden whirl of his body at the close of each verse. It took the taste of the town immediately, and for months the ears of orderly people were stunned by the senseless chorus — ‘Turn about and wheel about, / And do just so– / Turn about and wheel about, / And jump, Jim Crow’].
[Ire] ‘Long Tail Blue’ Dublin Comic Songster 26: Jim Crow was courting a brown girl, / And de white folks called her Sue.
[US]H.B. Stowe Uncle Tom’s Cabin 3: ‘Hulloa, Jim Crow!’ said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, ‘pick that up, now!’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor II 490/2: A comic ‘nigger’ of the Jim Crow tobacco-paper kind.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 92: What do you say, you Jim Crow-looking fellow?
[US]C. Himes ‘Heaven Has Changed’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 75: Back and forth they whispered to one another, ‘Old Jim Crow has got to go!’.
[US]‘Big Bill’ Broonzy ‘Black, Brown and White’ [lyrics] Now I want you to tell me brother What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?
[US]L. Bruce Essential Lenny Bruce 133: Uncle Tom Jim Crow with the curls and the fright wig.
[US]I.L. Allen Lang. of Ethnic Conflict 49: Other Cultural Allusions: jimcrow [Flexner (1976) says it was introduced by Thomas D. Rice’s 1828 minstrel song ‘Jim Crow.’ Popular in 1880s and 1890s].
[US]‘Touré’ Portable Promised Land (ms.) 152: We Words (My Favorite Things) [...] Jim Crow. Stagolee. Stepin Fetchit.

2. (Irish) a black person.

[Ire] ‘Paddy O’Flynn’s Honeymoon’ Dublin Comic Songster 340: Good bye, my darlin’, I shall go, / You may father your brats upon Jim Crow.

3. (also Jim Crowism) white racist discrimination against blacks and the Jim Crow laws that embody it; usu. attrib., as Jim Crow adj. (4)

[US]N.Y. Mirror 7 Oct. 118/1: Then, to counterbalance this good, you have entailed upon those British islands the curse of Jim Crowism .
[US]Colored American (DC) 3 Oct. 2/1-2: Many readers can see that jim Crowism and the bloody hands of some of the sons of the late Kuklux have not retarded the children of slavery.
[US]Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, UT) 31 Dec.1/5: [headline] Is Jim Crowism Growing in Chicago?
[US]Appeal (St Paul, Minn) 1 July 2/5: A jim-crow insitution backed and financed by the state, which would tend to open the doors to all the evils which accompany jim-crowism.
[UK]Peters & Sklar Stevedore II i: There’s no Jim Crow in this union, and you knew it when you joined up.
[US]Nation 7 Jan. 27: His vote against Jim Crowism.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Dust Tracks On a Road (1995) 678: I was giving sanction to Jim Crow, which theoretically, I was supposed to resist.
[UK] (ref. to 1931) W. White A Man Called White 125: One of the white men, thoroughly impregnated with jimcrowism [...] shouted, ‘You niggers get out of here!’.
[US]L. Brown Iron City 65: If there’s going to be Jim Crow, please put me right in with my people!
[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 120: All the time I heard them talk about Jim Crow and southern paddies’ way-out, screwed-up thinking.
[US]E. Bunker Mr Blue 376: All that matters is for an individual to justify himself in the mirror, and George did so using 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow.
[UK]Financial Times (L) 4 Nov. 4: Born in rural Georgia, his family moved north in 1941. ‘They came here to escape Jim Crow, that sharecropper, hard-scrabble existence.’.

4. (US) a small touring theatrical company.

[US]Daily Trib. (Bismarck, ND) 23 Oct. 4/1: Small companies in the back country districts are ‘fly by nights,’ ‘water tank shows,’ ‘Jim Crows,’ ‘crossroad concerns’ or ‘barn stormers.’.

In phrases

jump Jim Crow (v.)

1. to reverse one’s political allegiance.

[US]Richmond (VA) Enquirer 3 June 3: Mr. HENRY BANKS of Virginia has ‘jump’d Jim Crow’ – gone over to the opposition.
[UK]Morn. Chron. (London) 17 Nov. 5/5: We know the Duke far better than thou, / He will not jump Jim Crow just now.
[UK]London Standard 9 Jan. 1/6: Mr Potter [...] condemned the conduct of the hon. member for Coventry, whom he described as a regular ‘Jim Crow.’ Three weeks ago he blamed the board for giving any information, and now he called them cowards for not doing so.
[US]Perrysburg Jrnl (OH) 9 Sept. 4/1: The old hunker democratic conventional convention [...] show how easy a thing it is for some men to ‘jump Jim Crow’ whenever they think ‘circumstances’ require.
Ani-Slavery Bugle (New-Lisbon, OH) 15 Sept. 3/2: Though politicians may not sing it, they continually ‘Wheel about, and turn about, and do just do / And every time they wheel about they jump jim crow’.
[UK]Shields Dly Gaz. 10 Aug. 2/6: Some have jumped a regular ‘Jim Crow,’ and yet talk about opposing the scheme ‘as I have done from the first’.
[US]Eve. Herald (Albuquerque, NM) 25 Sept. 12/3: Jump Jump Jump Jim Crow / Issues come and issues go.

2. to become agitated, to ‘hop around’; also attrib.

[US]D. Crockett Sketches and Eccentricities 41: My old misses long time ago, / She took me down de hill side to jump Jim Crow.
[UK] ‘Mr. Ferguson and Queen Victoria’ in C. Hindley Curiosities of Street Lit. (1871) 63: She made him dance and reel around / And jump Jim Crow.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Hillingdon Hall II 16: James was one of those desperately over-righteous, cushion-thumping, jump-Jim-Crow breed of parsons.
[US]Durivage & Burnham Stray Subjects (1848) 38: Making himself agreeable to his officers by jumping Jim Crow, playing the bones, and imitating the ‘bull-gine’.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 5 Nov. 3/1: Masss Malcolm wantee me jump Jim Crow ’fore hawdinance, but me decline.
[UK] ‘Wonderful Mr. Spurgeon’ in C. Hindley Curiosities of Street Lit. (1871) 136: He can make a bishop jump Jim Crow.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 92: What do you say, you Jim Crow-looking fellow, that came from Kentucky a short time ago, where you first learned to turn about and wheel about and jump Jim Crow – just so?
[US]Daily L.A. Herald 31 May 5/1: Each successive cook [...] was kept [...] ‘to learn good manners and jump jim Crow’.
[US]M.A. Owen Voodoo Tales 189: Everybody began to sing and ‘jump Jim Crow’.
[US]Jackson Herald (MO) 3 Aug. 6/3: He’s the author of a popular song entitled ‘My Honey’s Black Ez de Chimbly-Back, Jump Jim Crow in de Mawnin’!’.

In exclamations